Equality/Women’s Rights

Moroccan Vote Puts Women's Gains to Crucial Test

Monday, November 21, 2011

Morocco's new constitution offers huge hope for gender equality, including combating a well-documented problem of domestic violence. New members of parliament elected Nov. 25, along with the king, will determine actual change.

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New Faces Significant

Bordat said that if new faces do manage to enter government, eager to promulgate the ideals of the new constitution, it would be hugely important.

"There are many progressive political leaders in this country, as well as very progressive lawyers. And with that kind of bloc you could really get people actively looking to apply international human rights laws directly," she said.

Demonstrations and rallies in cities across Morocco that started in February were understated compared to those of neighboring countries. They nonetheless marked an unprecedented period of political turmoil under King Mohammed VI. Protesters demanded greater democracy from their government, for the king to relinquish some power and for greater rights for all citizens; notably young people, women and Berber-speaking communities.

In June, the king announced constitutional reforms in a national address. These were approved by 98 percent of those who voted in the July 1 referendum; a group representing 73 percent of the country's 13 million registered voters.

In light of the constitutional changes, parliamentary elections scheduled for the fall of 2012 were moved up to Nov. 25.

The reformed constitution, which is a lengthy180 articles, also leaves some room for interpretation.

"After a great declaration for women's rights or human rights, the articles often end with a qualifier clause: 'as long as it respects the constitution, the laws of Islam and the kingdom,'" Bordat, the rights advocate, said in a separate phone interview. That clause, she added, allows slippage in applying the fundamental rights in the constitution.

Lawyers Unaware

As it is, Bordat said many lawyers are unaware of human rights the government has agreed to uphold when it comes to such matters as domestic violence.

She recently attended a meeting in Geneva organized by the U.N. Committee Against Torture. Delegates from the Moroccan government told the committee they were actively recognizing their obligations against torture, including domestic violence, Bordat said.

"I can assure you that most of the average folks applying the law at the local level are not aware of that," she said. "All of the public civil servants have got to be educated and informed about what Morocco's international human rights obligations are."

A 2011 national study by Morocco's High Commission for Planning found that nearly 63 percent of Moroccan women ages 18-64 had suffered some form of violence during the year preceding the study, and for 55 percent of them their husbands were the perpetrators. Violence by the wife was reported in only 3 percent of such cases, according to a joint statement by the Advocates for Human Rights and Global Rights, presented to the U.N. Committee Against Torture in Geneva earlier this month.

Thirty-three percent of respondents said that a man is sometimes justified to beat his wife, another report released by UN Women found.

Maura Ewing is an editorial intern at Women's eNews and a student at The New School for Social Research. You can read more of her work here.


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For more information:

2011 Study by Morocco's High Commission for Planning, English version released by UN Women:

"The 'Democratization' Process in Morocco: Progress, Obstacles and the Impact of the Islamist-Secularist Divide," The Brookings Institute, August 2011:

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